Does Fear Build Faith?

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1967 stingray bike
A bike like mine

Rumor was kids had died riding their bikes down “Suicide Hill.”  Therefore, all summer a group of us hung out on the knob sitting on our stingrays–not seriously contemplating careening down the hill–but hoping to see some other sucker bite the dust.  All elbows and asses and handlebars flying and crashing in the dirt.  To my disappointment, I’d witnessed no deaths, or even hospitalizations.  Still, I’d never seen any kid, no matter how old or cool, make it all the way down.

Suicide Hill was sheer fear, with a bump halfway down that launched anyone ballsy enough to try it into a near death experience.  At the bottom stood an elm tree stump.  Most kids bailed midair rather than become one with the tree.

Rule was no brakes, no skidding your feet.  Full speed.  I was eight or nine and I spent many a day atop Suicide Hill ginning up the courage to be the one to make it down intact.

Back then, if I thought about it at all, I thought courage was the absence of fear.

Now, close to fifty years later, now that I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, sustained concussions, and endured prolonged hospital stays, I know fearlessness is not always the presence of courage but of stupidity.

What’s the Function of Fear?

Does fear have a purpose, God-given?

Obviously, the fight or flight response is instinctive and protective.  It is a function of the adrenal system designed to keep us alive.  You’ve heard the old adage: the best way to survive a grizzly bear attack is to outrun, not the bear, but your buddy.

However, let’s not confuse adrenaline with courage or fear with cowardice.

I once saw a cartoon by Dan Piraro of “Bizarro” fame.  It featured a heedless man walking down the street surrounded by disaster.  He was protected by guardian angels and knew it.  The angels above him were complaining how much safer life would be if he didn’t know they were flying just above his head.

Maybe that’s the role fear plays.  It’s our on-board guardian angel.  “Shields up,” it shouts, “Run!”  Something besides cowardice told me to endure the name calling of my friends rather than risk the bump and stump of Suicide Hill that summer long ago.  Conversely, several short summers later, I broke my leg braving the world’s first and worst zip-line (Click here for that story).

Fear Adds to Faith

Literal fearlessness does not require faith.  This is the same idea behind forgetfulness not equalling forgiveness.  If I can’t remember a wrong, I need not forgive.  Just so, if I don’t sense risk or danger, no true courage or faith is required.  People with the unfortunate disorder congenital analgesia, the inability to feel physical pain, have no concept of hot or cold and the danger either holds.  Rushing into a fiery building to rescue someone–knowing what it could cost–calls for courage and faith not fearlessness.

Therefore, when I call faith an antidote to fear, I am not talking of an anesthetic.  Rather faith helps us face our fears.  Faith is reality based, eyes open to the danger.

It is almost as if it is a circle.  I face my fears with faith and then my faith grows while my fear diminishes.  Until I step into entirely new territory.  Then fear starts the circle of developing faith again.  Fear rightly viewed and applied can develop faith.

Back on Top of Suicide Hill

It took me all summer to finally give Suicide Hill a shot.  And oh, how I wish I could tell you about fearlessly speeding from the top, hitting the bump half-way down, launching my sting ray into the wild blue, crossing my handle bars, the wind in my crew-cut, avoiding the stump, landing upright in a burst of dirt, and skidding to a stop just before hitting the stinky tad-pole pond.  Applause, adulation, money!

Fact is I closed my eyes, hit the brakes, and dribbled off the trail and into the weeds, falling over.  But I tried!  Years later, after I had faced other death-defying dangers, I tried Suicide Hill again and ripped down that hill on my bike reaching the bottom with no problems.  That day I sat at the bottom of Suicide Hill on my Schwinn ten-speed looking back up the hill that once dominated me.  That day I swear Suicide Hill looked more mole hill than mountain and the mighty bump and gruesome stump mere provocateurs.  I had been plenty scared.  But no more.  At least not of Suicide Hill.  God, through my fear, had produced faith with which I could face the future.

Do you have a story of fear building your faith?  Tell us about it.

0 thoughts on “Does Fear Build Faith?”

  1. Georgie-ann

    Along the more feminine polarity of that “take” on experiential fear — risky, stupid, challenging, intimidating, threatening, imagined, impulsive, spontaneous, overcoming or otherwise — is the tendency to evaluate the worth and the meaning of the effort involved in what one is about to consider undertaking,… I understand that too much “fearful” caution and hesitation to engage in an active challenge, can have a possibly inhibiting effect on one’s ability to rise up to challenges in a healthy way, when necessary,… certainly, growth in one’s ability to master skills, develop strengths and meet life’s coping challenges is part of God’s design for all maturing humans, male and female,…

    I think “the old days” provided better and more meaningful opportunities for people to learn and grow and become energetically “tuned in” to their places in life,… absolutely everything required more hands on effort, co-operation, constant and diligent application, and consistency,… life needed us and the jobs we did gave our own personal lives meaning and dignity, and gave us personal stature,… very often, friendly “older people” with experience were there to teach us and guide us and warn us about better options and ways to proceed,… not always heeded, their voices of “wisdom and concern” were widely respected, and one always knew there were those who would be caring about how our “results” would turn out,… and a little ribbing was not far away, if one’s foolish impulses were becoming too obvious,…

    Farm life,… home life,… frontier life,… it was all a lot of very practical work, work, work ~~ a lot of which was also very intrinsically enjoyable,… making fruit pies and serving and eating them, caring for baby animals, burning the garbage, haying, bringing in the wood for winter, and the seasonal recreations in between,… not a lot of unused energy at the end of the day, or sense of purposelessness, or of having to “prove” something supra-ordinary,… life and our energies were meaningfully interconnected,…

    By contrast, our modern lives are often too energetically “easy”,… our “pace” is no longer as spontaneous, or creatively integrated, but is often subject to schedulized routines and demands,… rather than huffing logs, we’re clicking buttons, obeying speed limits (or not), waiting at red lights,… our minds are over-used and drained,… our lives are not intrinsically about helping out and nourishing one another,… energy has become a “sports focused” thing, an “individual challenge” thing, a “becoming the hero” thing, a body-building thing, and even a spectator thing,… as such, the things we endeavor to do and the ways we move are being stretched into a new dimension — sometimes of Olympic proportions — that doesn’t seem to really fit the everyday common man as well as his centuries old former roles, where everyone was maybe a much smaller hero, but a meaningful hero, nonetheless,…

    “Saying all that to say this”,… when our challenges are calling us to fit in with and invest ourselves in meaningful situations and groups (like church), where we’ll have support and encouragement from others, and where we have fulfilling projects and purposes to accomplish, especially working together, it is much easier to invest ourselves beyond our fears into new endeavors,… we’ll find our faith growing to help us meet the challenges, and give us strength to move in new directions,…

    I often have young people asking me for help or advice in developing their musical interests and abilities,… we welcome them in the choir, offer free lessons, have practices,… and the thing I tell them the most, is “just say yes!”,… anytime you have an opportunity to do something with music, if possible, “just say yes” and then do it,… one thing will lead to another, and over time you will learn and become familiar with many things, if you just give it all a chance by always bringing yourself to take advantage of all your opportunities,…

    say “yes”,… take the first step,… and then the second,… and see where God leads you,…

    overcoming our fears a little bit at a time, with the help of prayer and reasonable encouragement, is a good way for our faith to grow,…

    btw,… our family still talks about our fantastic sledding hill that we had in the dairy farm days of yore,… visitors were amazed at how perfectly every kid would bail from his sled just split seconds before running into a nasty old barbed wire fence at the end of the run,… I rode down once with my youngest, when he was 5, at breathtaking breakneck speed, observed how well they handled themselves, and went inside to make hot chocolate,… everybody remembers me making hot chocolate for years thereafter, but no one (including me) ever remembers me riding down again,… (-:

    1. Georgie-ann

      Concerning the “free opportunities” we offer the youth to learn music with us: I’m very concerned to personally “give back” and encourage others (especially in church!) to take advantage of situations whereby they can become “hands on” familiar with music and develop skills that otherwise might pass them by in life,… the world is forever clamoring for their attention (in too many commercialized ways), but will leave them holding an empty bag, as far as personal development and meaningful content is concerned,…

      Matthew 10:8 “(Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.) Freely you have received, freely give.”

      In simply observing the dandelion, we can see God’s innate, implanted wisdom made beautifully obvious,… the natural order is that: as the plant — having received “life” and the ability to grow — matures and flowers, it will develop seeds which are the potential for “freely” spreading and sharing that same God-given life,… As we grow and mature and are blessed to gain and learn important and meaningful things, the potential also develops within us — (the “seeds”) — for passing on this knowledge and wisdom, and for planting it in others,… The way we “plant” is very important as to how our crop will turn out,… planting freely and passing on love and respect for God (and humans) in the process, will produce very exceptional results,…

      Ephesians 2:8-10
      8 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

      9 “Not of works, lest any man should boast.

      10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

      God has designed dandelions, and God has designed us. Every two-year-old knows that dandelions are a very very special free and inspirational gift, made especially for them by God,… from the bright sunny yellow “flowies”, available within arm’s reach, for picking to make Mom smile,… to the fantastic and delicately beautiful, cosmically perfect seed globes, that will dissolve and blow away with a mere baby’s poof, sending their tiny helicopters floating idyllically off into the whole world!,… spreading the life, the message, and the joy!,… (-:

      I can just imagine the green lawn fanatic’s reaction to that one!,… but God made dandelions before we made lawns,… a perennial child at heart, I always rejoice to see the dandelions making their perky comebacks, and cheer them on,… (sometimes very quietly, depending on who’s around!),…

      God Bless! (-:

  2. When I first read the title of this post, my reaction was that fear does not build faith, it just breeds more fear, because I was thinking in terms of using fear to get someone to believe what you want. But I read your post and I ‘get’ it now…lol. I do have one time in particular – when my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. She was only 4, and Dave and I had no idea what to expect, what her prognosis would be, etc. I began wondering how small coffins came, and if we lost her, what would we ever do? I am the queen of worst case scenarios, and I had every single one of them. A few days into our hospital stay, I went to pray in the chapel at the hospital and realized she wasn’t mine to begin with. She belonged to God, and regardless of what happened, she was His. And that is when fear built faith – I gave her back to God and stood firm in that promise – that God had her. Now she is 24 – living on her own and going to school while working. And God still has her. 🙂

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